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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD Review: Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter/Under the Hood

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#1 of 4 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden



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Posted March 11 2009 - 03:42 AM

Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter/Under the Hood

Studio: Warner Brothers

Year: 2009

Subtitles: English SDH

Release Date: March 24, 2009

This DVD release expands the experience of the Watchmen theatrical film with two short pieces inspired by elements of the original graphic novel. Watchmen director Zack Snyder has indicated that one of these pieces, Tales of the Black Freighter, will eventually be re-purposed into an über-cut of the film to be released to home video at a later date.

The Films

Tales of the Black Freighter

Directed By: Daniel Delpurgatorio and Mike Smith

Starring: Gerard Butler

Rated: R

Film Length: 26 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Tales of the Black Freighter adapts the "comic within a comic" that was interspersed throughout the Watchmen graphic novel into an "anime-style" animated pirate tale. We follow the travails of a shipwrecked captain (Butler) as he moves through escalatingly gruesome experiences in an effort to return home to save his family from the band of pirates that destroyed his ship. The ordeal gradually takes its toll on his psyche with tragic consequences.

This was a unique device in the graphic novel as it was unclear how this grim independent story doled out irregularly throughout the series related to the larger story. At times it seemed to comment on the mental states of various characters until the final issue of the comic revealed its direct connection to the psychology of one character in particular. While an extended cut of Watchmen will eventually integrate this material into the film itself, this presentation gives viewers a chance to experience the story as a standalone work. It proves to be an effective piece in this format, reminiscent of stories from classic horror comics from publishers like EC.

Technically, the presentation is pretty standard Korean-style anime, with heavily stylized colors partially compensating for fairly limited hand-drawn animation. The color palette is garish, but arguably less so than its source material which maintained a deliberately unnatural palette in order to set itself apart stylistically from the panels of the main comic. The music by Tyler Bates goes a long way towards increasing the apparent production value and setting the appropriate gruesome and tragic tone.

Under the Hood

Directed By: Eric Matthies

Starring: Matt Frewer, Carla Gugino, Stephen McHattie, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Rated: PG

Film Length: 38 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 4:3

Under the Hood is a faux episode of a 1985 television news program called "The Culpeper Minute". It presents the episode as a retrospective look back at a series of interviews the program conducted a decade earlier in 1975 upon the release of original Night Owl Hollis Mason's (McHattie) memoir "Under the Hood". The archival material is mixed with commentary and discussion by various experts and "men on the street" about how views on costumed heroes have evolved over the ensuing decade. Along the way, the program includes interview comments from retired hero Sally Jupiter (Gugino) and retired super-villain Moloch (Frewer). It even includes a cameo piece of news footage of The Comedian (Morgan) who is none too happy to have a camera stuck in his face.

Conceptually, this faux documentary serves a similar purpose to many of the text pieces that appeared in the back of each issue of the Watchmen comic. These pieces usually took the form of documents such as excerpts from Hollis Mason's memoirs or press clippings about the early costumed heroes. The intent of these pieces was to create a deeper, more compelling world around the story told in the graphic novel. While less compelling as a standalone piece than Tales of the Black Freighter, the featurette does succeed in deepening the viewer's immersion into the world created by the film. It should be an entertaining experience for fans, although its rewatchability appeal is debatable.

The Video

Tales of the Black Freighter is presented in a 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Color and contrast are very good, but the presentation does suffer from ringing around high contrast edges as well as occasional "jaggies" that will be very noticeable to viewers watching on large projection displays.

Under the Hood is presented in standard 4:3 video. All of the footage is purposely manipulated in order to make it look like 1980s-era video or even older archival footage, so the image quality is intentionally sub-par. Digital video artifacts are negligible.

The Audio

Both of the features are presented with English Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Tales of the Black Freighter has a very nice audio presentation comparable to modern theatrical releases with a well-balanced mix that effectively employs the surround and LFE channels when appropriate with excellent fifelity.

In keeping with its faux vintage television news program aesthetic, Under the Hood has an appropriately restrained sound field with little use of the surrounds and LFE.

The Extras

When the disc is first spun-up in a player, the viewer is greeted with the following series of promos. All are presented in 4:3 video, letterboxed when appropriate, with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound unless otherwise indicated below:
  • Warner Blu-Ray Promo (Dolby Digital 5.1 audio - 1:09)
  • Behind the Scenes promo for forthcoming Green Lantern DTV (16:9 video - 3:02)
  • Theatrical Trailer for Terminator: Salvation (2:08)
  • Video Game Trailer for Terminator: Salvation (1:06)
  • Video Game Trailer for Watchmen: The End is Nigh (:37)
  • Theatrical Trailer for Watchmen (2:21)
Proper special features consist of a series of featurettes. All are presented in 4:3 video, letterboxed when appropriate, with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound unless otherwise indicated below:

Story within a Story: The Books of Watchmen (24:59) is a behind the scenes featurette looking at both how Tales of the Black Freighter and Hollis Mason's "Under the Hood" were used in the Watchmen graphic novel, how those concepts were adapted into the two short features included on this disc, and how Tales of the Black Freighter will be incorporated into a future presentation of Watchmen. The featurette is assembled from behind the scenes footage, archival stills, and talking head interviews with actors Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Stephen McHattie, Patrick Wilson, Carla Gugino, Jesse Reed, and Jay Brazeau. Also commenting are Watchmen co-Creator and Illustrator Dave Gibbons, Producer Lloyd Levin, Co-Producer Wesley Coller, DC Comics Senior VP, Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, 1981-2002 DC Comics President & Publisher Jenette Kahn, DC Comics President & Publisher Paul Levitz, Former DC Comics Editor and writer Len Wein, DC Comics Senior VP, Creative Director Richard Bruning, Writer Danny Fingeroth, Under the Hood Director/Producer Eric Matthies, Composer Tyler Bates, Watchmen Graphic Novel Colorist John Higgins, Production Designer Chris Watts, Production Designer Alex McDowell, and Additional Camera Operator Bill Dagleish. The closing moments of this featurette include an outtake from Under the Hood in which Gugino's Sally Jupiter ends her interview after being asked a too-personal question.

Next up is Watchmen Motion Comic, Chapter One (16:9 enhanced video - 25:28). This is the first episode of the 12 part "Motion Comic" that recreates the first issue of the original comic series through the application of limited animation treatments to the comic artwork combined with music. sound effects, and "book on tape"-style voiceover narration. The complete 12-part Motion Comic was released on DVD and BD separately on March 3, 2009.

A First Look at Green Lantern (10:11) is a combination promo/behind the scenes featurette for the upcoming direct to video release of an animated feature starring the classic DC comics superhero. This was previously released on the recent Wonder Woman DTV DVD and BD and the three minute promo mentioned above is more or less an edit-down of this featurette as well. It begins by discussing the origins of the character in both his Golden Age and Silver Age comic incarnations including some historical context. It goes on to offer up some clues as to the plot of the animated DTV (a space faring "Training Day" story where rookie Green Lantern corpsman Hal Jordan is shown the ropes of intergalactic police work by a more seasoned Green Lantern named Sinestro). The featurette consists of comic clips, talking heads, still production drawings, clips of voice actors recording their parts, and scenes from The Right Stuff and Contact to set the mood. Interview participants include DC Comics Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Dan Didio, Producer Bruce Timm, DC Comics Senior VP, Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, Former DC Comics Editor and Writer Denny O'Neil, Writer Alan Burnett, Voice Casting Director Andrea Romano, Director Lauren Montgomery, "Hal Jordan " Voice Actor Christopher Meloni, "Sinestro" Voice Actor Victor Garber, "Kilowog" Voice Actor Michael Madsen, and "Boodikka" Voice Actor Tricia Helfer.


The DVD is packaged in a standard Amaray-sized case. Inside the case are three paper inserts. One insert includes a code to download a Windows-only digital copy of the film(s?) for a reduced price. A 2-sided promo insert advertises the Watchmen book available in three flavors (softcover, hardcover, and "Absolute Edition") and the Watchmen: The End is Nigh video game. A third insert promotes Warner Blu-Ray titles.


Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter/Under the Hood is a unique viewing experience for fans of the film and source graphic novel. While interest in Under the Hood will likely be limited to those fans exclusively, Tales of the Black Freighter also works well as a standalone horror/pirate animated short. The presentation of Tales of the Black Freighter is marred only by some high contrast edge artifacts while Under the Hood looks and sounds appropriately low-fi given its faux archival aesthetic. Extras are highlighted by a behind the scenes documentary that explores the graphic novel origins and cinematic intent of these shorts. This is definitely worth a view for fans of the film who cannot wait for the inevitable extended edition of Watchmen on video that will intersperse Tales of the Black Freighter throughout the film, but its long-term value will be largely dependent on whether or not that edition also includes Tales of the Black Freighter in its standalone form.

Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#2 of 4 OFFLINE   Timothy E

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Posted March 11 2009 - 06:05 AM

Nice review, Ken! I am looking forward to picking up this one.

#3 of 4 OFFLINE   Lord Dalek

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Posted March 11 2009 - 06:22 AM

I'll probably pick this one up too, considering how I think the "Black Freighter" sections are probably the best in the whole Watchmen book.

#4 of 4 OFFLINE   Chris S

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Posted March 12 2009 - 01:53 AM

Thanks for the review! I'll be giving this a rental and wait to see what is done with the eventual Blu-ray/DVD release of Watchmen. I enjoyed the movie last weekend so it's difficult not to simply run by the store on the way home and pick this up.
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